Studying for the CIPFA qualification

| December 14, 2012 | 0 Comments

In this article Mark Ellis takes a look at the CIPFA professional qualification.

I originally started my accountancy career in practice and qualified as an ACCA. After eleven years I got itchy feet and moved into industry for three years and then took the leap into the public sector and higher education. It was during this latter period that I decided that I wanted to increase my knowledge of public sector accounting and so I elected to study for the CIPFA qualification via the fast-track route which was available to members of other accountancy bodies. The knowledge gained from CIPFA then helped me to progress my career and I eventually became the Head of Financial Performance Management at a multi-campus university.

So what makes a qualified accountant decide to study CIPFA and what makes it stand apart from other professional qualifications?

Well, CIPFA is the world’s only professional accountancy body to specialise in public services, making the CIPFA qualification a great foundation for a career in public finance. Indeed CIPFA’s unique combination of technical accounting and managerial skills is highly prized in many areas of business and commerce making the skills learnt highly transportable between both public and private sectors.

In CIPFA’s own words “the Professional Qualification is the most robust and relevant accountancy qualification for the public services”.

Within the UK, public services can be delivered by public, private or not-for profit organisations. These organisations receive taxpayers’ money and deliver services to UK citizens. The public sector can be seen as comprising of the following:

Local Authorities – This encompasses councils (county, city, metropolitan, district and borough), unitary authorities, housing associations, police services, and fire services. Local authorities are directly responsible for overseeing the delivery of services to the taxpayers within their defined area.

Health – The organisations that run health services at a local level include Strategic Health Authorities and Boards as well as Trusts and agencies. NHS Trusts deal in secondary, specialist and emergency care and primary care trusts are usually the first point of contact for patients requiring GPs, dentists, community health services and pharmacists.

Central Government – The work of the Government is divided among departments which specialise in a particular subject such as Health, Defence and Transport. It also includes agencies and executive committees.

Further and Higher Education – This incorporates education beyond the secondary level, especially education at the college or university stage, and also further education usually vocational or non-university courses.

Charities – Often referred to as the community or voluntary sector, charities receive funding and are non-profit making. Increasingly charities are being called upon to deliver public services on behalf of Government.

Private Organisations – Private-public partnerships are joint workings between the private and public sector in particular to deliver public policies, services and infrastructure. Private organisations also include accounting firms with responsibility for auditing public sector accounts.

Regularly updated, the qualification has been designed in conjunction with employers, students and academics and on completion you gain chartered status and the designation CPFA (Chartered Public Finance Accountant).

As with other bodies there are various entry routes to the Professional Qualification, designed to suit graduates, AATs, fully qualified accountants and senior professionals.

The minimum requirements are as follows:

  • Three GCSEs, grades A–C, and two A-Levels, grades A–C, or equivalent. Scottish, Northern and Southern Ireland equivalents also accepted. Subjects must include Maths and English at either level.
  • BTEC and SCOTVEC national certificates are also accepted.
  • The minimum vocational requirement is NVQ/GNVQ level 3, or Scottish equivalent.

You can become a student if you are 21 or over and have over three years’ relevant work experience and the support of your employer.

Various entry routes are available including:

All graduates are welcome to study for the Professional Qualification. Those with a relevant finance or accountancy-related degree will be granted exemptions.

Many AAT graduates study for the Professional Qualification and find it supports their career development. Full details including exemptions, case studies and special offers can be found on the CIPFA website.

Fully qualified accountants
For members of ACCA, CIMA, ICAEW, ICAS or ICAI, becoming CIPFA qualified is simple, you will need to sit just two papers in the fast-track route.

Part qualified accountants
If you are studying with another accountancy body you can switch to CIPFA. Take a look at the CIPFA website to see which exemptions you may be eligible for.

Senior professionals
Senior finance professionals who do not currently hold a professional accountancy qualification can take advantage of the accelerated route to the Professional Qualification.

The CIFPA qualification includes 12 modules across three stages, each awarding its own level of membership.

Level 1 – Professional Certificate stage
From double-entry bookkeeping to preparing and interpreting financial statements and management accounts, this level gives you the right grounding for your career.

You can apply for affiliate membership after passing the modules at this stage.

Level 2 – Professional Diploma stage
This stage focuses on specific public sector business skills and financial topics. It covers areas such as ‘whole of government’ accounts, public sector reporting frameworks and public sector borrowing. This knowledge can easily be transferred into the private sector companies.

You can apply for associate membership after passing the modules at this stage.

Level 3 – Strategic stage
The final stage in becoming a chartered public accountant is the culmination of all the skills learned. It gives a focused strategic financial management overview of running major projects and large complex organisations.

You can apply for full CIPFA membership applied for after passing these exams and submitting an Initial Professional Development Scheme portfolio.

In order to study for the qualification, CIPFA offer a flexible range of study options including:

Face to Face tuition
The CIPFA Education and Training Centre (CETC) has been providing taught courses for the Professional Qualification for over 25 years. Offered across a range of locations CETC expert tutors teach day release and revision courses as well as provide learning materials and support for distance learners and bespoke courses. All learning materials are included with the course costs.

Virtual learning
CIPFA Live Online with Kaplan Financial brings the classroom to you. Webinars are delivered by expert tutors live as if you were in the classroom and are interactive so you can ask the tutor questions and see their response. If you miss the lecture there is the option to catch-up and replay and the Live Online Community means you can interact with fellow students. Costs include all learning materials.

Distance learning
Self-study is supported by a range of study materials – workbooks, question packs and revision materials provided by CETC. Additionally, CETC provide tuition support for distance learning students.

When I studied CIPFA I opted for the distance learning option as this suited my own circumstances.

Without hesitation I would recommend the CIPFA qualification to anyone considering a career in or moving to the public sector.

For more details please visit the CIPFA website or if you have any questions concerning my experience please do not hesitate to drop me a message using the ‘Contact Us’ link at the top of this page.

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